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Good Words 1860
Woman's Noblest Attitude


A PHOTOGRAPH FROM THE GOSPEL HISTORY.

The four Gospels are peerless even in the Book of books. The scenes which they depict have the characteristics of the two opposite and rival schools of art in exquisite combination: a pre-Raphaelite perfection of realistic detail, with a lofty, unearthly Idealism of life and grandeur, which print these histories indelibly on the memory, imagination, and heart. We read them again, and again, and yet again, and never tire of them. Try this upon any, the very best, history that ever was written by human pen. Head it twice you may; thrice, not so likely; four or five times, hardly; but more, never. The very best get flat, stale, and unprofitable; but these matchless histories never do. Millions read them and re-read them, and still they are as fresh as the first day, and ever more intelligently relished. New wonders appear in them, and still new. The illustrious father of the Church, Augustin, finely expresses this when he says, "Scripture has its first draughts, its second draughts, its third draughts." Biblical students comment upon them, and people read with endless interest every sensible and savoury commentary on them; but the Text itself rises ever above all, and keeps above. In our most enlarged and spiritual moods, in our most elevated, heavenly frames, these incomparable Documents are ever above us; and while they have defied hostile criticism the most virulent and persevering, and baffled all attempts to break them down, they minister alike to the wonder and delight of the simple child and the hoary sage, bringing alike to the humblest and the most exalted minds spiritual life, peace, hope, joy unspeakable and full of glory.

The scene which we select at present is but one of many illustrations of this feature of the Gospels; but it is one which, though less noticed than many others—probably from its quiet character—is to us all the more inviting, as presenting to the thoughtful student an unobtrusive loveliness peculiar to such pictures.

It occurs in Luke viii. 1-3:—

"And it came to pass afterward, that he went through town and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the Twelve were with him, and certain women which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had gone tt seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto them of their substance."

Let us first study the picture a little, and then try to give the reading of it, or the ideas for all time which this picture embodies.

"Went," says our version, and quite rightly, but these aorists, when intended to express a fact of prior date to the time spoken of, are better rendered by pluperfects.

Touching are the few glimpses which the Gospels give us of the domestic life of our Lord upon earth. He and the Twelve made up one family: household we can scarcely call it; for though the foxes had holes and the birds of the air had nests, the Son of Man had not where to lay his head (Matt. viii. 20). But they had a common purse. That was '' the bag" that Judas kept: "he bare what was put therein" (John xii. 6). Strange that of all the Twelve it was just the one whose ruling passion was the love of money that had the post of treasurer; and stranger still, that though he abused his trust (for "he was a thief"), yet the Master, to whose all-piercing eye the greed of his heart and the unscrupulousness of his hands lay continually open, never exposed him; and probably he was not even suspected by his fellow-disciples till the atrocious sale of his Lord for a few pieces of sordid silver revealed his true character! The common stock of the little establishment appears to have been at times low enough; affectingly so. When the temple-dues were called for, He had to obtain the sum by a miracle; the only recorded instance of His resorting to that expedient to meet a pecuniary emergency of His own. But the voluntary poverty to which He stooped—"though rich, for our sakes becoming poor" (2 Cor. viii. 9)—and the honour of relieving it which, during one whole preaching Circuit, He conferred upon a few grateful and devoted women, opens up such features in His story upon earth, and principles so enduring in the relation subsisting between the now-glorified Redeemer above and His dear disciples still upon earth, that it is a feast of fat things even to skim the surface of it as here spread out before us.

The Prince of itinerant, open-air preachers is "travelling," or "making a progress," through town and village, proclaiming and announcing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God; scattering far and wide the seed of the Gospel, in preparation for the more systematic and continuous labours of those who were to follow Him with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. It was the second of three (and a kind of four) preaching Circuits which He took through favoured but thankless Galilee. The Twelve, as usual, were with Him; but, what distinguished this from all His other Circuits, He had besides a train of women, whose attraction to Him had each a story of its own. Each of them in her own way had found healing in His wings, and each seemed to say, "Entreat me not to leave Thee, for whither Thou goest I will go." And He bid them not away from Him. One clinging trophy of His power we read that He did send away. The naked, frightful demoniac of Gadara, gloriously healed, besought His wondrous Benefactor, on taking ship for the other side, "that he might be with Him." "Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him, and all men did marvel." (Mark v. 18-20.) But our Galilean women had their work to do in immediate connexion with Christ himself. His almoners, it was fitting that they should be with Him. "They ministered unto Him of their substance." ["Assisted him with their property." So Campbell renders it, with that undignified modern air which pervades his whole translation of the Gospels; as if to make our own all the dearer.]

Blessed Saviour! it melts us to see Thee living upon the love of Thy healed people. That they bring Thee their poor offerings, we wonder not. Thou hast "sown unto them spiritual things," and they think it a small thing that Thou shouldst "reap their carnal things." But dost Thou take it at their hand, and subsist upon it?

And yet what is this but a single example of what made up His whole earthly history? What was that life but a perpetual mysterious meeting of opposites and seeming contradictories? Liberty and law, Lord and servant, Riches and poverty, Strength and weakness, Glory and shame, Life and death—in one most real, loveable Person, whose warm, fleshly hand touched the leper to cleanse him and the dead to give him life? As he travelled through Samaria in the heat of the day, He was fain to rest Him on Jacob's well. But what music is that which I hear from His lips? "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He said to the woman of Samaria, "Give me to drink," for His lips were parched with the meridian drought. But "in the last, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." As He crossed the sea of Galilee, in the evening of a day of incessant fatigue, He was found "in the hinder part of the ship asleep upon a pillow," recruiting His exhausted frame for more work that evening. But, on His disciples awaking Him, saying, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" for a storm had arisen, and the poor men thought they were going to the bottom, He arose and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, "Peace, be still!" When the multitude that followed Him fainted from want of food, and He had none to give them, yet would not send them away fasting, He more than once turned the few loaves and fishes which the disciples happened to have for their own supply into the food o£ thousands. But though He fed others thus, He would not live upon miracles Himself, and in this Galilean tour women are His almoners. Beautifully says a late distinguished German commentator, "He who was the Support of the spiritual life of His people disdained not to be supported by them in the body. He was not ashamed to penetrate so far into the depths of poverty as to condescend to live upon the alms of . love. He loved with a perfect and pure love, and so permitted Himself to be loved. He gave all things to men His brethren, and received all from them; enjoying thereby the pure blessings of love, which is then only perfect when it is at the same time both giving and receiving. What a feature in the picture of the Messiah! Who could invent such things as these? He who feeds thousands by one word of His mouth lives Himself upon the bread of the poor. It was necessary so to live, in order that it might be so recorded." [Olshausen, in loc.]

The early Fathers of the Church delighted to trace these stupendous contrasts in the life of Christ. Infested with all manner of heresies on the Person of the Redeemer, these facts of the Gospel History formed at once the rich nutriment of their own souls, and the ready armoury whence they drew the weapons of their warfare in defence and illustration of the truth. Hear, for example, how the eloquent Greek, Gregory of Nazian-ZUM, [Born, A.D. 300; died, A.D. 390.] regales himself and his audience in one of his discourses, kindling at the assaults to which the Person of his Lord was subjected:—"He was wrapt, indeed, in swaddling clothes; but rising, He burst the wrappings of the tomb. He lay, it is true, in a manger; but He was glorified by angels, and pointed out by a star, and worshipped by Magi. Why do ye stumble at the visible [in Him], not regarding the Invisible? He had no form nor comeliness to the Jews; but to David He wa3 fairer than the children of men, yea, He glisters on the mount with a light above the brightness of the sun, foreshadowing the glory to come. He was baptized, indeed, as man, but He washed away sins as God; not that He needed purification, but that He might sanctify the waters. He was tempted as man, but He overcame as God; nay, He bids us be of good cheer, because He hath overcome the world. He hungered, but He fed thousands; yea, He is Himself the living and heavenly bread. He thirsted, but He cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink; nay, He promised that those who believe in Him should themselves gush like a well. He was weary; but He is Himself the rest of the weary and heavy laden. He was overpowered with sleep; but He is upborne upon the sea, but He rebukes the winds, but He upbears sinking Peter. ["This exultant repetition of "but," reminds one of the triumphant exclamation of the apostle, " And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. vi. 11.)] He pays tribute, but out of a fish; but He is the Prince of dependents. He is saluted, 'Samaritan,' and 'Demoniac;' but He saves him that went down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves; [This identification of the good Samaritan with Christ himself, and of him that fell among thieves with fallen and perishing man, is a favourite idea of the Fathers, as all acquainted with their writings know; and those who are not, may see it in Trench on the Parables.] nay, devils own Him, devils flee before Him, legions of spirits He whelms in the deep, and sees the prince of the devils falling as lightning. He is stoned, but not laid hold of; He prays, but He hears prayer. He weeps, but He puts an end to weeping. He inquires where Lazarus is laid, for he was man; but He raises Lazarus, for He was God. He is sold, and at a contemptible rate, even thirty pieces of silver; but He ransoms the world, and at a great price, even His own blood." After carrying these contrasts down to the Judgment, the eloquent preacher apologises for the somewhat artificial style in which he had indulged, to meet the arts of the adversaries. Bishop Hall, in his Passion Sermon, expatiating in a noble strain, slides into the same style. ["That head, which is adored and trembled at by the angelical spirits, is all raked and harrowed with thorns; that face, 'fairer than the children of men,' is all besmeared with the filthy spittle of the Jews, and furrowed with His tears; those eyes, clearer than the sun, are darkened with the shadow of death; those ears, that hear the concerts of angels, now are filled with the cursed speakings and scoffs of wicked men; those lips, that spake as never man spake, that command the spirits both of light and darkness, are scornfully wet with vinegar and gall; those feet, that trample on all the powers of hell, are now nailed to the cross; those hands, that freely sway the sceptre of the heavens, now carry the reed of reproach, and are nailed to the tree of reproach; that whole body which was conceived by the Holy Ghost, was all scourged, wounded, mangled. This is the outside of His sufferings."] So pleasant a field is this to range in, and so elevating a theme for meditation, that we have almost lost sight of the point which suggested it—that one affecting contrast which our Evangelist presents—Christ, the Healer of a few women, living on the substance of His grateful debtors; preaching the Gospel of His own kingdom, and not disdaining the hire whereof He is worthy; "as poor, yet making many rich." On such a subject one is fain to linger a while.

"Here may we sit and dream
Over the heavenly theme,
Till to our soul the former days return;
Till on the grassy bed,
Where thousands once He fed,
The world's incarnate Maker we discern."
(Continued in No. IV.)


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